There are few places on earth as tragic and beautiful as Rwanda.
The small Central African country has an abundance of natural beauty: with lush rainforests, snow-capped peaks and many waterfalls.
Unfortunately, this landlocked country is also famous for the genocide that took place there in the 1990s, when around 800,000 people were killed by their own neighbours.
Today, this great nation is once again being recognized for its many positive sides, particularly its commitment to ecotourism and sustainable practices (which are all the more impressive considering how much it’s been through).
Now, whether you’re planning your next holiday or just curious about this little-known destination, read on for our ultimate travel guide to this beautiful Nation.
A brief history of Rwanda
When we talk about the history of Rwanda, the first thing we should mention is the genocide that happened.
This was the mass murder of ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu, mainly by Hutu extremists, during the final stages of the civil war.
The genocide spanned a 100-day period from April 7, 1994 to mid-July, killing about 800,000 people.
Although the genocide was committed by both Hutu and Tutsi, it primarily targeted the Tutsi.
The genocide was planned by members of the Hutu-controlled government.
The killings began almost immediately after the downing of the plane carrying Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994 over Kigali, the capital.
There is no consensus on the total death toll, and the United Nations (UN) figures are disputed due to the nature of the genocide and incomplete records.
To stop the killings, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) and many other nations sent peacekeepers to the region, but they failed to stop the genocide.
Why Visiting Rwanda?
Rwanda has something for everyone: adventure sports, a relaxing getaway or an insightful cultural experience.
For the more adventurous, rock climbing, hiking and skydiving are on offer;
Those looking to relax can choose between spa treatments and water sports.
For an insightful cultural experience, visit one of the many UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the famous Bisoke Gurinding Cultural Landscape, where you can get a glimpse of traditional Rwandan life.
For a glimpse into the recent past, visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Murambi Genocide Memorial.
To see into the present and future, visit the Ndoro Cultural Center, which houses exhibitions on traditional culture.
When to go
The best time to travel to Rwanda is from June to December, when there is less rain and the highlands have a pleasantly temperate climate.
So there are two ways to enjoy an uninterrupted visit to Rwanda all year round: either stay in the lower elevations or head to the highlands
Basic Language Concepts
The official language in Rwanda is Kinyarwanda, which is closely related to the other Bantu languages spoken in the region.
You can fix them with English in many areas of the country, but learning a few simple words and phrases will make your visit that much more memorable.
Here are some useful words to know when visiting Rwanda: Icyo – hello, Ityambara – thank you, Hakuna matata – don’t worry, Ishyimisi – goodbye, Korongo – please, Rukuruko – I’m sorry, Shukuru -thanks.
Food in Rwanda
Rwandan cuisine is a combination of French and African influences: expect plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, rich soups and grilled meats.
These are some of the most common dishes in Rwanda:
- Akabaka: cornmeal porridge with beans and vegetables, served with a garnish of banana and avocado.
- Bushimba: a spicy vegetable stew.
- Gisakura: a rich chicken and vegetable stew.
- Munyu: a vegetable stew prepared with beans, peanuts and spices.
- Nshimbi: a peanut butter garnish.
- Shine: a sweet potato dish.
Things to do in Rwanda
Mountain Gorillas: These iconic primates are found alone in the Virunga Mountains, so if you are an animal lover who has dreamed of seeing these gentle giants in their natural habitat, this is probably the main reason to come to Rwanda.
This is a very popular activity, so book as early as possible, it’s definitely worth it for the great experience of getting so close to these beautiful creatures.
Hiking : In Rwanda, there are numerous breathtaking hiking trails to explore, ranging from short hikes to multi-day hikes.
You can embark on a traditional Rwandan trek in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda or tackle Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda and enjoy the breathtaking views from the mountains.
Skydiving: when you feel like you’ve done it all and to experience something completely new, why not go parasailing over Lake Kivu?
This is one of the few places in the world where you can parachute over a lake!
Rwanda is a country that is fast becoming a major tourist destination. The reasons for this are the beautiful scenery, friendly people and growing economy.
Rwanda is an up-and-coming destination that should definitely be on your list of places to visit.
Suggested read: Why Gisenyi? 7 Mind-Blowing Things To Do In Ginsenyi, Rwanda.